I have just found some more of my research on the orphans sent to South Australia. You may remember from earlier posts that the Imperial authorities in Britain, recognizing the difference between the colonies, dealt with South Australia separately from New South Wales. See for example my posts 13 earl-greys-irish-famine-orphans-13 and 16 earl-greys-irish-famine-orphans-16
It looks like my newly surfaced folder consists mainly of British Parliamentary Paper photocopies, and my notes from South Australian archives. A quick glance shows nothing particularly new, just a lot more detail. If you want to search for yourself, your State Library should have copies of the Irish University Press 1,000 volume edition of BritishParliamentary Papers. See BPP Colonies Australia vols.11-13. Volume 11 covers Sessions 1849-50, and volume 13 Sessions 1851-2.
It sometimes is forgotten that South Australia dealt independently and directly with the Imperial authorities in Britain. Governor Robe (1845-48) may have been in favour of receiving female orphans from Irish workhouses but his successor Governor Young easily gave way to pressure from locals wanting to end the scheme. Support was only ever reluctant anyway. In reality, Adelaide’s trajectory regarding the Irish workhouse orphans was much the same as Sydney and Melbourne. Though it must be said they were usually quicker off the mark with their initiatives,
lobbying for an equal, or rather ‘appropriate’, number of ‘young lassies’ from England and Scotland:
registering the complaints from Surgeons on board the orphan ships about their difficulties in dealing with these young women:
“…they were governed by their passions and impulses hence I experienced much difficulty in preventing moral degradation and in establishing and preserving good order”.
SAA GRG 24/6 1848/1763, Col. Secy. Letters received, Eades to Munday, 25 October 1848
showing concern for the interference from the local self-appointed guardians of public morals, who described the ‘Government Location’ (Adelaide depot) as a ‘ Government Brothel’ and whose gossip about the unhygienic or dirty habits or rowdy behaviour of the Irish orphans spread like wild fire in such a small place.
“I allude to the depot at the Native Location for the reception of the female orphans landed upon our shores, where the most disgusting scenes are nightly enacted “.
The South Australian Register, 21 January 1850, p.3.
South Australia differed from the others in deciding it was inexpedient, or too expensive to apply, and police, their newly enacted arrangements for employing the Irish orphans. Thus leaving themselves open to the young women working the system, returning to the Adelaide depot more frequently than might have been the case otherwise. Given that we are talking about a relatively small number of orphans, it astonishes the modern reader to find so much paper, and so many enquiries generated by the Earl Grey scheme.
Adelaide from the South East c.1849 courtesy State Library New South Wales
Let me continue with the fiction I created last time, a researcher wishing to find out more about the Irish workhouse orphans who went into institutional ‘care’ in Australia. This time, I’ll suggest we search for orphans who went into mental hospitals, whether in Fremantle, Sunbury, Woogaroo, Ararat, Yarra Bend, Adelaide Lunatic Asylum, Callan Park, Goodna, Gladesville, Ballarat, or wherever. It won’t be an easy task.
In these days of ‘quarantino’ Kirsty and myself shall communicate via Skype, Zoom or FaceTime. I told her ‘ Kirsty, there is no easy access to secondary sources, or to some of the people you need to meet. Neither is there access to the very rich archive of different Mental Hospitals across the country. None of this has been digitised as far as i know. Even at the best of times you may not have access to these records. When I did a teeny bit of work in this area some years ago, most Victorian records were on open access; NSW records had the rider that one should be careful not to hurt anyone; and Queensland records sometimes were available, sometimes not. I’m not sure what the position is with regards to West Australia and South Australia or Tasmania. I’d love to think these records are readily available. I believe the healthy option is to be up front and open about mental illness, yet always careful of an individual’s needs. Not everyone agrees with that.
‘I have a number of books on my shelves’, says Kirsty, “hysteria is the dis-ease of women in a patriarchal culture“, according to Claire Kahane. ‘That and other interpretations of the history of insanity will be worth pursuing if you decide to pursue this further’, said I. ‘It could be a very large subject. The sheer size of original sources, never mind secondary ones, is daunting. Here are a couple of examples from case histories which by law, these institutions were required to keep. [For example, 1845 Act for the regulation and care and treatment of lunatics, 8 and 9 Vic . c. 100].
“Although the Big House was not hell for everybody, it was definitely limbo for most poor souls”. (Hanna Greally, Bird’s Nest Soup, 1971)
The following case is from Woogaroo which later became Goodna and then Wollston Park Mental Hospital in Queensland.
“Ellen (I’ll not mention her second name) 23y.o single, domestic servant from Co. Clare Ireland residing Ipswich RC suffering from melancholia…readmitted 25 Jan 1871 (thenceforward there are yearly notes 1871-1898) eg. March 24 1884 sometimes makes an extraordinary noise between a screech and a croak while she is at work…March 1885 industrious in laundry but when at home sits with folded arms and her hat down over her eyes“. Ellen suffered from ‘religious mania’.
‘With this kind of detail in the records, surely we can find Earl Grey orphans who went into these institutions, when the time comes’ says Kirsty?
‘Do you think we can’? I replied. ‘I never went through these records searching for orphans in any systematic way. One would need to know the young women’s marital history in great detail, including their common law marriages, and know about all the uncertainties relating to their age, place of origin, who provided the information to the authorities, and the like. Anyway, here’s the handful of examples I happened across. I’ll start with the Port Phillip examples’.
From the Lady Kennaway shipping list we know that Bridget was a 14 year old nurse from Dunfanaghy, Donegal, RC, who could neither read nor write and who brought with her a prayer book and testament. In the record above she is described as a ‘congenital idiot’.
Eliza Armstrong per Diadem was a 16 yo Anglican from Enniskillen, Fermanagh who had entered the workhouse without any fixed address. She was described in the Yarra Bend record as suffering from paralysis and dementia.
Interestingly I recorded in my own notes (VPRS 7417/P1/1A p.88, at number 37) Eliza Armstrong, from the Colonial Surgeon’s Hospital, 17 yo pauper per Derwent 1850. There was a Bessy Armstrong on board the Derwent who hailed from Lisnaskea, Fermanagh. And to complicate matters even further, there also was an Eliza Armstrong admitted to Yarra Bend 26 October 1848 (before the official arrival of any of the Earl Grey orphans). She was described as suffering from chronic dementia, dangerous, and being ‘not in a good state of bodily health’. That poor woman stayed in Yarra Bend for 64 years until she died in 1912.
Professor Malcolm tells us both our orphans, Bridget and Eliza, were released ‘cured’ after only a few months stay in Yarra Bend Asylum, suggesting the young women may have used the asylum for their own ends, “as a means of escaping from intolerable living conditions”. But you will notice how tricky it is to confirm we have found an Earl Grey orphan in the Mental Asylum records. The next couple of cases did not end up in an asylum but they so easily could have done so.
Margaret Gorman from Donegal Union per Lady Kennaway
This 15 year old was described by the Port Phillip authorities as an ‘imbecile’ who suffered from fits. She would most likely have ended up in an asylum, perhaps even a mental asylum, had it not been for the Chief Matron, Mrs Ensor.
Have a look at my blog post 35, https://earlgreysfamineorphans.wordpress.com/2016/06/05/earl-greys-irish-famine-orphans-35/ and scroll down to item 50/93, to a letter dated 20 /3/1850. There is information there from Irish authorities defending their sending Margaret to Australia under the Earl Grey scheme. They eventually found that information about her being subject to fits had been ‘carefully kept from Captain Herbert, Lieutenant Henry, and the Medical Officer’ of the workhouse.
The letter from James Patterson to the Superintendent recommends, and i quote, “Mrs Ensor will take charge of this orphan for a period of twelve months, and will feed and clothe her and endeavour to instruct her so that she may be able to go into service” “in return for a small remuneration”. As Kelly says,’Thank Goodness for kindly Mrs Ensor’.
Anne Muldoon from Ballyshannon workhouse per Inchinnan
For information about Anne I am indebted to Brian Harris. See her story in Brian’s brilliant blog, ‘From Prisons and Poorhouses’,
We know Ellen was in a mental hospital, only because she told the Dunwich Benevolent Asylum that she spent some time in Goodna. Imagine looking for her using the names of her six husbands, Jones, Stanley, Heffernan, Dwyer, Munro, Hickson. It appears that Ellen too may have used the Asylum ‘to escape from intolerable living conditions’.
Ellen Brady or Brodie from Kilrush per Pemberton
Dr McIntyre recentlyreminded me of this case from my Barefoot. The information originally came from Ellen’s descendant. Ellen married John Wall in Geelong in 1852 and had five children with him. The family later moved to Batesford and Dean but by 1867 Ellen was in Ararat Hospital. That is where she died, in January 1883.
Kirsty asked. ‘Did you find out what happened to Bridget Ferry, Eliza Armstrong and Margaret Gorman? Maybe they went back into an institution later in life’.
‘Good point’ i said, ‘No, i haven’t. Linking diverse records is crucial to this study. Births, deaths, marriages, Hospital records, Prison records, they can lead us to our orphans in Mental Asylum records’.
‘I’m worried’, says Kirsty, ‘There are only three mentioned here who actually went into an asylum. The subject looks overwhelming. Do i begin by going back to Foucault, Freud, Elaine Showalter and the rest? Those case histories you showed me are so sad. Why did these immigrant Irish women end up in an asylum? I read an essay by the late Sister Mary MacGinley where she argued that family standing was what bestowed status, and it’s among Irish families of standing we find the climbers, those determined to establish themselves. At the other end of the spectrum, are the vulnerable ones, and i would assume she includes here immigrant women who lacked a strong support network, or who couldn’t cope with their intolerable living conditions, such as abuse by their husband, postpartum depression, poverty, intemperance, vagrancy, abandonment, and other hardships’.
“That’s good’, i said. ‘You are already thinking about what you said last time; it’s not about numbers, it’s about exploring the underbelly of colonial society, or something to that effect. Let’s first try and find a few more orphans who went into a mental asylum, and then we’ll see where we go from there.Were they more likely to go into such an institution in their old age, for example’?
Women Residents in the Newington Asylum c. 1890. From the State Library of NSW Picture Collection SPF/1170
Postscript: I almost forgot. Jaki McCarrick has an interesting piece about her play ‘Belfast Girls’ in the April edition of tintean.org.au
Reading the excellent series of orphan stories, written by descendants, in the free online magazine tintean.org.au has reminded me of something else we need to do: that is, make a thorough search for those orphans who spent time in an institution in Australia, whether it be prison, a Benevolent asylum, a mental hospital, an Industrial school, a Lying-In hospital, or an asylum for destitute children. [ Should we widen the search to include the orphans’ children] ?
I’ve said before the numbers involved were not large, probably only ten percent of the whole. That is a familiar gut-reaction. But it is a gut reaction: we shouldn’t make up our minds and prejudice the results of our research before it is complete. It is becoming easier to do that research as more and more primary sources are digitised, and made available online. Trove is the obvious example. There are others. See http://www.geelonginfirmary.net/how_to_use.htm
But that search for ‘Irish orphans in Asylums’ is still a daunting project, one that may require a team of researchers, especially if the intention is to cover the whole of Australia. If a student came to me with such a project proposal, I would ask him or her, ‘is it do-able? Show me how’. The student might reply, ‘it’s not about numbers. Sure, there will be records that haven’t survived. It’s more than that. It’s about digging deeper; it’s about truth-telling; it’s about discovering the darker side of Australian life some of these Irish orphans endured.’
Benevolent Asylum Dunwich records
Note how informative these records can be. But they don’t always allow us to identify our Irish orphan ‘girls’.
No 89 Ellen Flynn or Cunningham admitted 21 August 1879 from Toowoomba Hospital having lost her sight for the last six months. She was from King’s County, Ireland, daughter of John Dooley, a farmer. She was Roman Catholic, could read and write, and married John Flynn at Wollongong when she was 17 and he, 23. Her husband was a Lockup Keeper at Tenterfield. He died about thirteen years ago. She had seven children alive, three were in Tenterfield, two in Roma, two in Warwick. Two girls had died. She came to Sydney with friends as an immigrant per Tippoo Saib about 1855. She lived in New South Wales for many years. Her husband was 12 years in the Police.
Now is this the orphan Ellen Dooley who arrived by the Tippoo Saib in 1850? The information so far accords with the information provided by Ellen’s descendant, Ann Faraday, for my Barefoot volume 2.Ann had no record of Ellen after 1861.
This Ellen married again in 1885 to Michael Cunningham, himself an inmate of Dunwich. The Register records her frequent stays in the Benevolent Asylum and when she was absent on leave, from 1887 to her death 16 September 1898.
No 259 Eliza Scholes admitted October 10th 1889 from Brisbane Hospital suffering from rheumatism. She was from Belfast, Ireland, a domestic servant, Church of England, could read and write, daughter of Anthony Rodgers, engraver, and Jane Harver. [Now you would need to know that an Eliza Rogers daughter of Anthony and Jane was one of the infamous Belfast girls on board the Earl Grey who were banished directly to Moreton Bay in 1848.] Eliza said she was married in Brisbane at age 14 to Charles J. Worth (dead) and at age 42 in Sydney to Jacob Scholes (address unknown, last heard of in Victoria), 7 children by her first marriage. Addresses unknown all in Queensland…No property, no cash. She was last seen by the Medical Superintendent Nov. 21 1894. She died and was buried a day later 22 Nov. 1894. [ElizaScholeswas an inmate of Toowoomba Women’s prison serving three months for vagrancy in 1888, and six months, early in 1889].
NO 453 Ellen Agnes Hickson admitted October 29 1895 from Goodna Asylum, daughter of John Leyden, farmer and Mary Cronin. [This is another orphan who arrived by the Thomas Arbuthnot in 1850. She has appeared already at the end of my post about “Some Sad Stories” https://earlgreysfamineorphans.wordpress.com/2015/03/06/earl-greys-irish-famine-orphans-9/ Once again you will need prior knowledge to recognise Ellen as one of the Earl Grey Irish Famine orphans].
No 498 Mary Clark admitted 19 January 1897. She was from the Brisbane Depot suffering from a bad leg. She was from Belfast, Ireland, Roman Catholic, could read, daughter of Charles Murray, a leather cutter, and Mary Donnelly. She married twice, first to William Campbell when she was 26 at Armadale (sic), NSW, and second, to John Edward Clark when she was 34, also at Armadale. She had four children by her first marriage, three of whom lived at an address unknown,. The fourth, Charlotte Campbell was married to H. Lambourne in South Melbourne. ‘Came to Australia 49 years ago by Ship Roman Emperorlanded at Adelaide S. A. stayed there 18 years, went to N.S.W, lived there 15 years then came to Brisbane and staid (sic) there ever since.
Last 2 years at Brisbane working and assisted by the Benevolent Societies and Government, and at Brisbane Depot’. The giveaway here allowing us to identify Mary as one of the orphan ‘girls’, is the name of her ship and the date and place of its arrival.
No 506 Ann Gregory admitted 16 March 1897, born in Boyle, Ireland, a housewife and ladies’ nurse, can read and write, daughter of Andrew Heggerty and Salina Reynolds. [Ann Haggerty arrived in Sydney with her sister Catherine, the daughters of Andrew and Sarah, both dead, from Boyle, Roscommon, by the Digby in 1849. Both had their indentures cancelled in the Sydney Water Police Office and sent to Moreton Bay]. Ann married John Gregory when she was 18, in Brisbane. According to the information she gave the Benevolent Asylum, she came to Australia in 1848 and landed in Brisbane, She had lived in Rockhampton, Charters Towers and Brisbane, and had no money and no property. She died 30 May 1900.
No 549 Eliza Dwyer admitted May 4 1898 from Brisbane suffering from bronchitis, born Belfast, Ireland, Roman Catholic, housewife, can read and write, daughter of John Frazer, Bootmaker, and Margaret Gallagher, married Edward Dwyer when 20yo at Brisbane, husband dead 4 years, 5 children alive, one dead, has information about the other 4, came to Australia 50 years ago, landed Moreton Bay, been in Brisbane ever since as nurse and housework etc, last 2 years living with daughter Ipswich Road. No property, no money. Last seen by Medical Superintendent 1 December 1903, died 2 December 1903, buried 3 December 1903. [Eliza Frazer was one of the “Belfast girls” on board the Earl Grey, sent directly to Moreton Bay by Surgeon Douglass].
Ellen Dooley, Eliza Rogers, Ellen Leyden or Lydon, Mary Murray, Ann Haggerty and Eliza Frazer were all ‘Earl Grey Irish workhouse orphans’.
‘There are even two women in the Register who arrived by the James Pattinson the vessel that brought young Irish women to Sydney in 1836; Susan Gillan from Mountmellick, daughter of Edward Finlay and Mary Keogh, and Jane Richards nee Turkington’, i said to the student.
‘The project is a goer’, says my student. ‘I’ll need to look at the Registers again to see if there are some you’ve missed. Trove will also open up more information i’m sure. I certainly won’t leave anyone in limbo. There is a lot i can do. I’ve already had a look at a doctoral thesis at the University of Queensland. Dr Goodall says Dunwich was far from the ideal retreat some contemporaries claimed it was. ‘Inmates quickly developed institutional behaviours…they were subject to overcrowding, senseless regimentation, little or no recreational opportunities…infantilisation and poor quality and unappetising food, he says’.
It doesn’t sound like they had a good quality of life in the end. And look how many Irish women go there towards the end of their life.
It will be interesting to see what Benevolent Asylum records in Sydney and Melbourne throw up. I’ll have to get permission to gain access to some of those particular records, won’t I.’
‘Are you thinking of narrowing down your project already’? i answered. ‘What about the orphans who went to gaol, or into a mental asylum? Maybe we should talk about this next time’.
This reblog of a 2016 post is to alert you to the next Earl Grey orphan history that will appear in tintean.org.au on 7 October. May I encourage you to subscribe to the magazine?https://tintean.org.au/about/ Doing so will inform you when the next issue, and subsequent orphan stories appear. Each history is written by an orphan descendant with the focus largely on what became of the orphan and her family in Oz.
I wonder why we need to assess the contribution of the orphans to Australia. Is itjust something historians do, deluded fools that we are? There havebeen a number of attempts already. The orphans were workhouse refuse/deadwood tipped out on poor unsuspecting colonists by British imperialists. Or were they’mothers to the Australian character’ whose ‘descendants enjoyed opportunities unheard of in Ireland’? There’s a great array of views about the orphans’ history on the Irish Famine memorial website that are worth pondering, athttp://www.irishfaminememorial.org/en/events/I wonder if speeches made at the Melbourne annual gathering in November are also available. Does anyone know?
I’ve even dabbled a little myself in the past, in the introduction to Barefoot and Pregnant?, volume one, in the magazine, History Ireland in 2000, and in the description of the Earl Grey scheme on the Irish Famine memorial website. See for…
Just in case you haven’t heard already, the Irish-Oz online magazine http://tintean.org.au intends running a series of orphan histories over the next few months, beginning this Saturday 7 September.
Last month, August 2019, the editors approached me to help organize it. I was happy to do so for their philosophy is very much in line with my own. Open access to knowledge lies at the core of every republic of letters.
I am also an acquaintance/friend of one of Tinteán‘s editors whose work i happen to admire. She is a world authority on James Joyce and Joseph Furphy, and an editor of great skill and integrity who will do the contributors proud.
A small number of people have accepted an invitation to write a short narrative history of ‘their’ orphan ‘girl’. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart. It is wonderful to see the orphans stay close to you 170 years after their arrival in Australia.
The first history will appear 7 September inst. How long the series runs will depend on how it’s received, i imagine. Would you like to subscribe to the magazine? It’s free, and easy to unsubscribe. See the top right hand of this webpage https://tintean.org.au/about/ And don’t be afraid of letting us know your reaction.
How many millihelens (the word is from Sinéad Morrissey’s On Balance) would it take to launch another series, do you think?
I’m not sure how this will go. I’ll try getting in touch with some of the orphans’ descendants who sent me material in the past. Maybe together we can give an outline of a family history that may be of interest to others, even if it’s just to suggest possiblelines of enquiry. I’llattemptsome of the things I’ve suggested earlier, such as make our ownpresence felt, find something aboutthe orphan’s Irish background, as well as what happened to her in Australia.And I hope, put her in some kind of historical context. I’m sure you know all this already. You are welcome to make a suggestion about the things we ought to include.
This time, I’ve chosen to write something about one of the infamous ‘Belfast Girls’, Mary McConnell. I’ve beenin touch with one of Mary’s descendants, Mrs Pat Evans, for more than twenty-five years; she…
Allow me to update the contents of my blog. By clicking on the url you will be taken to the post. The titles are not that informative. But note the Search Box at the end of the post that should take you to wherever you want to go. Goodness me. Try typing ‘Hyde Park Barracks Monument’ or ‘Irish sources’ or the name of a particular orphan. Good luck.
As perthe ‘About’ page of thisblog, you’re not forced to accept anything I say. Please, feel free to let me know your take on why the Earl Grey scheme came to an end. History has always been about discussion and debate.
“‘Uncertainty in meaning is incipient poetry‘-who said that?” (Brian Friel, Translations)
One of the problems we face is that the most accessiblesources that have survived–government enquiries, parliamentary papers, newspaper articles and the like–were written from the vantage point of the upper and middle-class establishment. It would be a shame to let that decide for us what is important and accept what they say at face value. It would give us a one-sided history. But sometimes, as in this case, they are very important. I just hope we don’t lose sight of the young women…
Memory is a funny thing. I just knew i had collated some of my early findings in Workhouse Indoor Registers on a file for the journal Familia, and whilst searching for that, i came across these pics. They were from Paula V., whose Dutch surname i cannot spell. There was an accompanying letter too. Now where is that? Did i give it to Marie and Perry back in the day with my other 800 or so letters from orphan descendants? Nah. I’m sure i saw it later than that. But where on earth can it be? Do i have to rely on my memory for its contents? Let’s hope my memory is reliable.
Paula even mentioned she had sought assurance from a former colleague and good friend of mine, David Bollen, in Goulburn. Yes, David said, she was on the right track. Her orphan descendant, Eliza Mahon from Carlow had arrived by the Lady Peel in 1849. Paula and her husband even went to Ireland, and visited Carlow in search of Eliza.
The ancestral link is along the female line. Can you see any resemblance between Eliza Mahon above, and Dr Julia Baird? The eyes? The forehead? The cheekbones? Or, to quote “The Castle”, should I “tell him he’s dreamin'”?
Paula’s letter, if i remember correctly, told me she employed a researcher in Ireland. But he found no records of Eliza in Church of Ireland (Anglican) records, and suggested she may have ‘converted’ during the Famine in order to receive some food. Yet there’s no trace of Eliza’s baptism in Catholic records for Carlow either.
When she arrived in Sydney in July 1849, according to the Lady Peel shipping list, Eliza was only fifteen years old, from Carlow, the daughter of James and Catherine Mahon, and a member of the Established church (Anglican).
Taking up the suggestion of Paula’s researcher, I looked for Eliza in the Catholic baptismal records for the parish of Carlow and Grague https://registers.nli.ie/parishes/0697 and found 5 January 1830, Mary Mahon daughter of James and Ann Mahon, and 5 December 1836, John son of John and Catherine Mahon of Pollardstown Road. Neither one had the appropriate pair of parent’s names.
Does anyone have access to the baptismal records of St Mary’s Anglican church in Carlow? Can we check again to see if there’s any trace of Eliza?
Or should we be looking elsewhere? Does anyone have access to things like ‘Find my Past’?
Irish workhouse indoor registers
Here, from my 1987 Familia article, are a few more examples of Earl Grey orphans from extant workhouse Indoor Registers mostly in the north of Ireland. One of the things i value most about these workhouse registers is that they bring us close to the orphans themselves, for a moment. And they allow us to review the question, “who were the female orphans”?
Have a Go
I can almost feel the quickening of your pulse when you discover something new about your orphan ancestor. It can be a wonderfully inspiring feeling. But before you view the examples i’ve provided below, may i ask you to try something challenging? That is, take off the blinkers you wear when you are chasing your own particular orphan ‘girl’. Look around. Use your peripheral vision. Let’s see if we can set aside the saccharine formulae, and imposition of present-day values on the past that are part and parcel of genealogical service providers, and television programmes. Set aside the sugar coating and feelgood elements we all prefer to find. Try putting ourselves in the shoes of the “others”.
‘Your’ orphan was one of the Famine survivors, after all. Unlike Paul Lynch’s Colly, the young brother of Grace, the subject of his moving 2017 novel. The four jet-black pages towards the end of the novel are preceded by four or five pages of young Colly dying of hunger.
…gagsmell — that was a rat are the rats not all eaten–don’t sick all over yourself the smell—there it is now bring to mouth–
…listen listen listen listen listen–why can’t I hear me–why can’t you hear me…mister don’t lift me..don’t lift don’t lift not into this cart…
Paul Lynch, Grace, pp.293-4.
Or if you are feeling ambitious, put yourself in the shoes of Garry Disher’s Her in country Victoria in the first years of the twentieth century. “Her”, she has no name, sold for a pittance, a young life tied together with pieces of foraged string. Novelists often bring us closer to the emotional life of the past, than do historians, do they not?
Varied circumstances; what did the orphans bring with them?
What we find in these Workhouse Indoor Registers is not just an understanding of how many– large numbers of– people lived at or below the poverty line. They show the variety of circumstances ‘our orphans’ emerged from as well.
Some ‘orphans’, not many, were in the workhouse from their early childhood, almost as soon as the workhouse opened its doors, confined by its walls, imprisoned by its regulations. What did that experience do to your soul, your outlook on life, your mental state?
Other young women, as Dympna McLoughlin suggests, lived a life on the begging road, only seasonally entering the workhouse, out of the cold at winter-time, leaving when they were ready, or seeking the emigrant’s escape if it was offered.
See Dympna’s chapter on ‘Subsistent Women’ in the Atlas of the Great Irish Famine or my blogpost at https://wp.me/p4SlVj-4X
about half way down.
Or there, look, that is a little family isolated or abandoned by other family members, battered by illness, or unemployment, or infirmity, getting up, knocked down again, and again, and again, and again, until ground into the dirt, swallowed by the poverty trap.
The orphans did not start out with the same ‘mentality’, or the same outlook on life. And what of those who left behind a young brother who had ‘gone over the wall’, their mother and sickly sister still in the workhouse? Inside their ‘luggage’, that 6″ X 12″ X 18″ wooden box, was their ‘outfit’ and Douay Bible. But hidden inside there was also a parcel of guilt, and bereavement.
And after viewing the examples below, you may be inspired to ask if the impact of the Famine on these northern Irish orphans was very different from that experienced by other orphans, from Galway, or Mayo, or Cork, or Tipperary, for example. There are lots of things you can explore to help you place your individual Irish orphan in her appropriate historical context
Let me show you these examples from my file. (Some people may not have access to that 1987 Familia article of mine). At last! i hear you say. Not all the examples are connected to a present-day descendant. Nor is this one,
Mother and Daughter: Catherine Tomnay from Armagh per Earl Grey
Catherine appears in PRONI record BG2/G/1 as Catherine Tomaney. At entry 456 she is described as the child of entry 322, Elenor Tomaney, a 59 year old RC widow, no calling, healthy, Armagh, coming in to the workhouse 1 February 1842 and leaving 14 October that year. Catherine was 16 but left the house earlier than her mother, on 15 August.
Yet soon after, at entry number 1166, Catherine re-enters the workhouse 1 September, and this time is described as ‘destitute’. She and her mother are regular ‘visitors’ to the workhouse throughout the 1840s until Catherine leaves 25 May 1848 to join other Earl Grey orphans on their way to Australia.
Having entered 1 September 1842, Catherine leaves again with her mum on 14 October. Then at entry numbers 1474 and 1475, 12 January 1843, Ellen is described as being ‘delicate’, and Catherine ‘unhealthy’. This time, the mother leaves 10 April 1843, Catherine not until 8 April 1844.
Once more at entry 3899, Elenor re-enters the workhouse 29 November 1845. This time she is described as a 62 year old widow who is “tolerably well”, from Armagh City. She leaves 16 March 1846.
Independently of her mother, (3967) Catherine comes back into the workhouse 13 December 1845 and is described as a 19 year old single Roman Catholic without calling who is thinly clothed and dirty, from Armagh City. This time, once again, she leaves with her mother 16 March 1846.
Finally, at entry 4536, Catherine is registered as Catherine Tamoney a Roman Catholic single female 19 years old who is thinly clothed and hungry, from Armagh City, entering the workhouse 7 March 1846, and leaving 25 May 1848. [Note the discrepancy re her surname and her date of entry].
My early findings, with a few annotations
I did find the file i was looking for. So here at last are some more examples of young female orphans inside their Ulster workhouse. They originally appeared in my 1987 Familia article. Since then, independently too, some of them were researched by their descendants. Some were not and still are not. Maybe more descendants will emerge as new generations are bitten by the family history bug.
The examples here are all Port Phillip arrivals, coming by the Derwent, and a few by the Diadem. They are from Indoor workhouse records for Armagh, Ballymoney, Downpatrick, Enniskillen and Magherafelt held in PRONI which is nowadays in the Titanic Centre in Belfast, should anyone wish to view the original records for themselves. Let me know if you have trouble reading them. My annotations are pretty scrawly.